THE EPHEMERAL

Continuing our guest blogs this is the first blog from our Siganto Foundation Fellow Peter Anderson.

 

Like many of the things I’ve researched and written about, I find it hard to identify when I began working on my current project. As I’ve started to go through materials here in the Australian Library of Art’s collection I’ve come across small pieces of my own work that seem strangely linked to the work I’m doing now. For example, back in 1986 I wrote an essay for the catalogue that accompanied “Know Your Product”, an exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art that focussed on the complicated overlaps between local music, art and popular culture in Brisbane in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My essay was titled “Lists of Ordinary Things: The Materialisation of Memory”. Reading back through that exhibition catalogue, and looking at other related materials that are held in the ALA’s collection of artist and gallery ephemera, I realise I’m back in the same territory, thinking through similar issues as I was then. While an exhibition can present artefacts, how do you capture (and represent) the more ephemeral aspects of ‘the scene’ which gave rise to these things?
Back in 1986 I was thinking about the list as an organising device, and I still am. But I’m also back thinking about the ephemerality of ‘the scene’, and how it might be represented. And oddly, my first port of call is ‘ephemera’. The project I’m engaged in has the long term goal of making an exhibition – about the vibrant emerging art scene that gave rise to number of artist-run spaces and projects in Brisbane during the mid-1980s. It’s an area of art practice that hasn’t really been given much attention, and when the history of Artist-Run activities in Australia is discussed, the Brisbane scene in the 1980s is usually overlooked – despite the fact that this activity is discussed in Urszula Szulakowska’s introductory study “Experimental Art in Queensland 1975-1995” (1998). Perhaps part of the problem is that an account of what went on in Brisbane hasn’t really found a place in the secondary literature, so finding out about it often seems to involve going back to primary materials, or tracking down fragmentary accounts in art magazines, or old exhibition catalogues.

Perhaps, as Ross Harley suggested in his curator’s introduction to “Know Your Product”, ‘the act of collecting and documenting … is a very un-Brisbane thing to do’. Perhaps ‘most activity in Brisbane exists for its moment first, the memory second and then (sometimes) thirdly, the documentary trace’. Perhaps that was true then, but is less so now. Certainly, looking through the range of materials held in the ALA’s collection of artist’s and gallery ephemera, the traces are there. And if collecting and documenting such cultural material is a ‘un-Brisbane’ activity, the Library’s collection certainly provides another moment where perception and reality find themselves at odds.  
Back in 1986 – right in the middle of the very period I am now researching – my sense was that these kinds of ephemeral documentary traces were still mainly in private hands, in organisation’s filing cabinets, in boxes under people’s beds, in sheds, under houses … so much paper and card just waiting to be lost, or perhaps all too readily discarded. Here in the library I’m glad to finding these things again – exhibition invitations, flyers for events, posters, small publications, little notes and annotations. The challenge is to discover how these traces might be activated in a way that somehow brings the activities they were linked to back to life. Perhaps I’ll begin with a short list of Brisbane’s Artist Run Spaces – EMU, Red Comb House, One Flat, AROOM, That Space, The Observatory, John Mills National, Bureau, Little Alternatives, AGLASSOFWATER, Arch Lane, Brutal (and that’s just the start …).

Peter Anderson
Australian Library of Art Siganto Foundation Research Fellow

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Love the title of your 1986 catalogue essay! I'll have to come in and read that one. And thanks for "documentary trace" - great term, think I'll keep that one ....